In Vidarbha, a village of the damned
Sukhada Tatke TNN, Nov 4, 2012
Unmindful of the scorching heat and the iron chains around his legs and hands, Raju alias Rajendra Dhere crouches on the ground, tracing his name in the mud with a finger. Ask him his age and what he does in life and he is quick to respond with One and Class One respectively. Then he begins rambling incoherently.
The 40-year-old’s plight is, bizarrely enough, reflected in almost every fourth house in Vadura, this village of 1,800 people in the Nandgaon-Khandeshwar block in the heart of Amravati district. Elsewhere in Vidarbha, the issue of poverty-stricken farmers committing suicide has taken precedence over all else. But in Vadura, or “paagalon ka Vadura” as it has come to be called, villagers have a greater concern: the silent demon of mental illness that has been afflicting people over the years and is now begging for government intervention.
The villagers are unaware of the draft Mental Health Care Bill of 2010 which prohibits chaining persons with mental illness. Raju’s family says that chaining Raju is the only way to keep him in “control”. “He tends to get violent. We admitted him to the Nagpur mental hospital thrice, but it has not helped,” says his brother’s wife, under whose care Raju has been since his farmer father committed suicide three years ago. Known as an intelligent boy and swimming expert in his teen years, Raju today bears no resemblance at all to his younger self.
No govt intervention as yet
Fifty-two year old Laxman Satange, better known as ‘Tiger’ in the village, does not reflect the picture of his youth either. He sits in a corner or roams around his house, engrossed in whatever catches his fancy. If it is a piece of paper, he folds it relentlessly for hours; if a pen, he doodles endlessly. His brother Prabhakar is in the same boat. Until two months ago, he would wander around the village and take his clothes off. Now he talks to himself and spends most of his time sleeping.
Despite the enormity of the problem, it was only last year, after worried villagers saw children behaving oddly in school, that they decided to do something. “The teachers noticed that several kids were not paying attention or looked disturbed,” says resident Purushottam Dhere. “They happened to come from families with mental disorders.
That’s when we approached the Apeksha Homeo Society for help, which co-ordinated with the Amravati health department and organised a medical camp. Psychiatrists and psychologists from private groups were also present.”
The camp was an eye-opener—of the 100-odd people who showed up there, 14 were diagnosed with acute mental illness and 26 others with milder variants. A doctor told TOI that most of the villagers suffered from psychosis and schizophrenia;
mental retardation was also prevalent.
Dr C L Sunkusre, district programme officer of the National Rural Health Mission, admits that the problem in the village is grave. “The prevalence of mental illness in this village is far greater than any other village in Amravati,” he says. “We need to give it special importance. The causes may be genetic, rooted in pregnancy problems or stress-related. We need to get to the root of it and think of solutions.”
According to Dr Pankaj Wasadkar, a clinical psychologist associated with the Manas trust in Vidarbha, Vadura is symptomatic of alarger disquietthat governs rural India: an acutelackof awarenessof mental health issues and treatment. Wasadkar had attended the camp and found that there was no reason that could be pinpointed for certain. “The problem is that there is no epidemiological base to the problem in the villageor even in rural India,” he says. “In this particular village, there has been no disaster or trauma. Some patients have been rendereduntreatablebecause treatment has never been provided to them. Some have chronic illness which came to the fore. Therefore, there needstobe governmentintervention where psychiatric treatmentis made available.Buteven after the health camp, the medicines were not distributed properly.”
Villagers too complain that there has been no follow-up by the health department. “The government is not doing anything,” says Dhere. “All we want is for experts to carry out a survey to examine the reasonssothat moresuchcases don’t occur. What scares us the most is that little children might develop the same problems.
“The signs in school are worrying enough,withkidsimitating the mentally ill they see around. It’s high time the government helped us.”
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